The pandemic has forced businesses to rethink all aspects of their operations, and that’s especially true of restaurants. Some have struggled and, unfortunately, many have already closed for good. In fact, the National Restaurant Association reports that as of December, 2020, more than 110,000 restaurants (17 percent) had closed permanently or long-term.
However, despite the many challenges of the pandemic—such as operating at a lower capacity, reduced foot traffic from workers who’ve gone remote, and the added expenses of PPE for staff and stricter cleaning protocols—some restaurants have not only weathered the uncertainty of the past 10 months but have managed to create new revenue streams and adjust their business models.
Here’s a look at how some of these restaurants have responded and adapted to the pandemic.
The needs of restaurant customers have evolved over the past year. Early in the pandemic, customers turned to restaurants for pantry staples they couldn’t get from their grocery store. Now that might mean meal kits, to-go wine tasting flights, or decorate-your-own cupcake kits.
Savvy merchants have adapted their menus to meet customers’ changing needs. In some cases, they’ve dropped less popular or less profitable items from their menus to focus on high-margin, high-demand items. This is especially important when working with a more limited kitchen staff.
Beak Restaurant in Sitka, Alaska, has been focusing on dishes that travel well and can be easily reheated at home. “For example, on Mother’s Day I did quiches instead of scrambles because they serve multiple people, reheat well in a home oven, and are still really delicious,” says owner Renee Trafton. Beak Restaurant’s menu now also includes a rockfish shepherd’s pie in a reheatable foil container. “I feel like people have been more interested in comfort food during this pandemic,” Trafton adds.
Of course, customer’s needs aren’t always food-related. Diedrich Espresso in Washington state sold face masks. “We have about five seamstresses in two counties sewing us masks full-time,” says owner Jasmine Diedrich. “Some are coffee-related, but they come in all different prints and colors.”
With many customers opting for curbside pickup and some dining rooms still closed, restaurants’ social media accounts, website, and email lists are now more important than ever.
Jeremy Poon, managing director for Sushi Lab in New York City, says they’ve stayed in touch with regulars via social media (particularly Instagram) and the company’s email database. “They have been very supportive during the pandemic, ordering takeout from us regularly. Very often, I even made deliveries on my own, because we wanted to show the customers how much we appreciated their support.”
Brooklyn Tea, also in New York, has similarly leaned into social media to stay connected with customers. Using social media, they promoted online sales and new products such as their Immunity Box with herbal teas for the immune system and respiratory health.
Meanwhile, Mike and Judith Able, co-owners of Swirl Wine Bistro in South Florida, have also boosted their business’ online presence by featuring new specials on their website and starting a monthly newsletter to keep in contact with their loyal customers.
As communities lost beloved restaurants, coffee shops, and bistros, some customers doubled down on their commitment to supporting local merchants by buying gift cards, ordering takeout, and otherwise voting with their wallets. While some customers have done this on their own, “Dine Local” and “Eat Local” campaigns have also helped spur this activity on a larger scale.
Annie Choi, owner of Found Coffee in Los Angeles, has benefited from this community sentiment. “What’s really lovely about the Found Coffee community is that they are very, very loyal,” she says. “In general, I think small business customers are very loyal people.” She adds that many of her customers bought Clover Gift Cards early in the pandemic to help the coffee shop stay afloat and ensure their survival beyond the pandemic.
While the specific survival tactics of a coffee shop may look quite different from that of a full-service restaurant or wine bar, adaptability remains important across all corners of the restaurant industry. What worked pre-pandemic may not work now, and what worked two months into the pandemic might not be the best approach going forward.
As Roxanne Mein, Director of Catering, Brand Development, and Online Ordering for Lulu’s Mexican Food, says, “to survive in times like these, you have to step out of your box and get a little uncomfortable before you can be comfortable again.” That may mean adding new products, experimenting with Instagram Live, or participating in a “Dine Local” initiative with other restaurants. All of these present opportunities to connect with customers in new ways and attract new customers.
Clover’s high-end POS ecosystem can help restaurants adapt to the rapidly changing business climate. Whether they need an easy, inexpensive way to accept online orders and payments, manage inventory in real time, or create targeted promotions to their customers, Clover can help restaurants not only survive but thrive. Third-party apps such as DAVO Sales Tax and Orderspoon provide additional functionality to boost merchants’ productivity and streamline their operations.
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